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How to use LinkedIn to simplify supply market intelligence gathering

This week, we've been talking with Kelly Barner, blogger and Managing Editor of Buyers Meeting Point and co-author of Supply Market Intelligence for Procurement Professionals: Research, Processes and Resources (J. Ross Publishing, 2015) about the impact of social media on conducting supply market intelligence. According to Kelly, social media, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn, should be part of just about any research strategy today. Each has a particular role to play. Today, Kelly shares the value she finds in LinkedIn. Her comments should be of interest not only to anyone who’s out there doing research, but also to companies that want to be found and make it easy for buyers to do business with them.

 

Coupa:  You said you use Twitter as news aggregator, and that in that regard it is much better than LinkedIn. But, I notice that you have a very strong presence on LinkedIn. What value are you finding there?

 

Kelly: The company section of LinkedIn is an underused resource. If you're checking out five or six companies that are participating in a bid, I think that's a really neat, quick way to do it.

 

First of all, it would be a red flag to me at this point if a company didn't have a profile, unless I was looking at a very small, localized, supplier. Not having a LinkedIn profile would be like finding out a supplier didn't have a website. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I can't do business with this company.

 

They should have a profile with a lot of those basic stats we were talkingLinkedIn is a great place to do research on companies. about earlier. How professional does it look? Are they making good use of posting news updates? If not, you have to go find the website, then find the news page, then sort through the press releases to get to what's actually news. When they collect it all for you on the profile it makes the company section of LinkedIn a very good information resource.

 

Coupa: What about groups?

 

Kelly: The groups haven’t turned out to be very good for networking, at least not for procurement. I participate in a few groups in different ways. There are some groups that I just know from experience discussions will break out. I make a different kind of investment of effort in those groups.  Then there are the groups where I need to post just because everybody else is, and I want to make sure my stories are listed in this timeline. Nobody's ever posting a comment in those groups. They’re just there to be seen.

 

A lot of it is about the role that the moderator of the group chooses to take, and why they have started the group. That sort of position offers some lessons that can be applied inside of companies.

 

If procurement is going out and collecting information, they become a steward of all of it. Some of it ends up in a report. Some of it you make a decision that it’s interesting, but no one's going to read that many pages so you hold it back. But by going through that process as the gatekeeper, or the steward of the information that's being churned around and turned into intelligence, how active a role you're willing to take directly affects the success of your outcome.

 

I think that in a microcosm kind of way, that's seen in LinkedIn groups. There are some fantastic group moderators that are doing an awesome job. You're never getting bombarded or assaulted with garbage in their groups. There are actual comments. There are expectations about the quality of things that are posted.

 

Then there are other groups where it's a total free-for-all, and I think those groups have a correspondingly low level of quality interaction.

 

Coupa: Can you call out any good groups that you like?

 

Kelly: Sure. I love "Purchasing Practice." That's a really good one. "World Class Supply Chain Management," long title, but that's another one. The other one that I really like is called "The ISM Group.” It’s run by the regional group in New York and it’s fantastic.

 

Coupa: As a blogger and writer, do you get some ideas from what people discuss on LinkedIn groups?

 

Kelly: I do at times. One of the things that I try to make time for is posting reactions to truly interesting articles. Whether that becomes a post or not, if something has really struck me, and I find myself thinking about it, I try to have the discipline to get back into that group, find that person, and engage with them whether I disagree or agree.

 

Coupa: Would you say that LinkedIn's a better place to have that deeper interaction, if you find the right group?

 

Kelly: I think it is. I think it's a little bit safer. It's very exciting, when three and four people are all going back and forth on Twitter, but it has a way of evaporating into the timeline and that is where LinkedIn still has Twitter beat. From a discussion standpoint, that that conversation ends up getting preserved in a place that you can go back to.

 

Coupa: It seems like more of a place for bigger ideas and trends, rather than breaking news.

 

Kelly: It is, and there's also an air of quasi-privacy about it. You don't have to be worried, as a practitioner, that a supplier that you're in negotiations with is going to be reading what you post. On Twitter, unless you take all these steps to really lock down your timeline, that stuff is public. Nobody wants to be the person that puts the detail out there that ends up causing the deal fall apart.

 

It's not to say that there aren't people in groups that you wouldn't think would be there, or that shouldn't be there. But I do think people are more willing to expose issues or bringing up concerns to the group on LinkedIn:  "I'm worried about my team being able to do something, or I'm worried that I don't know the right next step to take. Can you help?" That kind of thing is not going to happen in a totally public forum.

 

One of the big things to look for that people don't often think about is the difference between a totally open group and one that's private. It's pretty easy to see, because they've got the padlock icon near the group name. If it's a totally open group, and you are doing some kind of Internet research, you may find your way to that group because it means all of the discussions that are in there are exposed and indexed and can be found. But, think about what that means as you engage with that group.

 

We're hearing more and more in our general procurement work that we need to be more multi-dimensional. It's no longer enough to do reporting, you have to do analytics. Everything has this three or 4D model as opposed to a single or 2D kind of approach including supply market research.       

 

So, use LinkedIn. Listen to some podcasts. Watch some videos on YouTube. You have access to written, spoken, viewable information. It's tough because it's not always easy to qualiify it and draw direct lines. But I think it's following a path, from an information standpoint, that's very similar to the levels of visibility and complexity that procurement is being asked to address in other parts of our jobs.